ARLINGTON, Texas — Mookie Betts came to the Dodgers to make a World Series difference. With a mad dash to home plate, he helped put Los Angeles over the top.
The end of a frustrating championship drought for Los Angeles — and perhaps just the start for Betts and the Dodgers.
Betts bolted from third for the go-ahead run on Corey Seager’s infield grounder in the sixth inning and led off the eighth with a punctuating homer, and the Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Tuesday in Game 6 to claim their first championship since 1988.
Seager, the younger brother of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, was voted most valuable player of the best-of-seven Fall Classic. He became the eighth player to be MVP in a league-championship series and World Series in the same year; the 26-year-old set franchise records with eight homers and 20 RBI this postseason.
The Dodgers had played 5,014 regular-season games and were in their 114th postseason game since Orel Hershiser struck out Oakland’s Tony Phillips for the final out of the World Series in 1988, the same year veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw — the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who won Games 1 and 5 of this Series — was born in nearby Dallas.
Kershaw was warming up in the bullpen when Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames to end the game and ran alongside teammates to celebrate in the infield — many players and coaches still wearing face masks at the end of a season played out amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dodgers started the party without slugger Justin Turner, who received a positive COVID-19 test and was removed in the eighth inning after having Major League Baseball’s first positive test in 59 days. Turner returned to the field with his wife about an hour after the game, took photos with the World Series trophy and also was in a team victory photo.
Los Angeles had come up short in the World Series twice in the previous three years. And Betts was on the other side two years ago with the Boston Red Sox, who before this season traded the 2018 AL MVP to the Dodgers. The Dodgers later gave Betts a $365 million, 12-year extension that goes until he turns 40 in 2032.
Betts’ 3.2-second sprint was just enough to beat the throw by first baseman Ji-Man Choi, pushing Los Angeles ahead 2-1 moments after Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled ace left-hander Blake Snell despite a dominant performance over 5 1/3 innings.
Snell, a former standout at Shorewood High School in Shoreline, gave up two hits and struck out nine while walking none; a run was charged to him.
Randy Arozarena, the powerful Tampa Bay rookie, extended his postseason record with his 10th homer in the first off rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin, the first of seven Dodgers pitchers. The Rays never got another runner past second base as L.A.’s bullpen gave reliever-reliant Tampa Bay a taste of its own medicine.
About 2½ weeks after the Lakers won the NBA title while finishing their season in the NBA bubble in the Orlando, Florida, area, the Dodgers gave Los Angeles another championship in this year when the novel coronavirus pandemic has delayed, shortened and moved around sports seasons.
Just before he was removed, Snell turned away from his manager and appeared to yell an expletive as Cash headed to the mound. In control all night, the Tampa Bay ace no longer had the ball in his potent left hand.
Soon, the Rays no longer had a grip on the lead, either.
The team that reached the World Series leaning largely on analytics was undone by the data — and a decision sure to become part of October lore.
With Snell seemingly still seething, wobbly reliever Nick Anderson was on the mound when Betts’ double started a sequence that led to two quick runs for the Dodgers.
“I guess I regret it because it didn’t work out,” Cash said, later adding, “Personally, I thought Blake had done his job and then some.”
Said Snell: “At the end of the day, I see both sides.
“Just me, the way I felt that game and what he was able to see what I was doing in that game. I don’t want to be taken out of that game.”
The Rays’ pitching philosophy focuses on not allowing starters to face hitters for a third time in a game, and Snell has had trouble that way before.
But the 2018 AL Cy Young Award was dominant this time, and steaming when he handed the ball to Cash, regarded as one of the bright, young minds in the majors.
“I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They’re not easy decisions. I didn’t want Mookie seeing Blake a third time,” Cash said.
While Anderson was warming up, the baseball world was heating up to skewer Cash.
From the harsh words of New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard to the reaction of longtime reliever Jerry Blevins, the sentiment was similar.
“So who gets to pull the manager?” Syndergaard tweeted.
“You manage a baseball game with your EYES, HEART, & GUT as well as your BRAIN,” Blevins posted.
Why pull your best pitcher with a reasonable pitch count, nine strikeouts and just two hits simply because it’s about to be the third time through the order?
“I’m not exactly sure why. I’m not going to ask any questions, but he was pitching a great game,” Betts said. “We had a chance to do something, but they made a pitching change and it seems like that’s all we needed.”
Austin Barnes, the No. 9 hitter, singled on Snell’s 73rd pitch with one out in the sixth when Cash made the same decision he has so many times in the fifth or sixth inning.
The sixth-year skipper turned it over to a bullpen that set a major-league record with 12 different pitchers recording saves.
Meanwhile, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts finally has a World Series title to savor.
“This is our year!” Roberts shouted, drawing huge cheers from about 11,000 fans in Texas.
Roberts did what his seven predecessors — including Joe Torre and Don Mattingly — failed to do, bring a championship to long-starved Los Angeles fans. He joins Hall of Famers Walter Alston and Tom Lasorda as the only managers to do so.
An emotional Roberts shared hugs with his players after the final out.
He has taken the Dodgers to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, helping extend their streak of eight consecutive NL West titles. But they never reached their ultimate goal and Roberts endured plenty of criticism along the way.